The early days of the Cold War saw an unprecedented leap forward in jet age technology. Over in Britain, one of the airplanes to come out of the race for high speed, long-range bombers was the Avro Vulcan, one of the first delta wings. Recently, I got to visit the Avro museum in the UK and have a look inside one.
A background of the bomber
The Avro Vulcan first flew in 1954. It was designed as Britain's solution to a Cold War deterrent. As one of the three nations with nuclear technology at that time, the UK needed some way of getting bombs to their targets. Thankfully, they never had to be used. Despite the awful job that these birds were designed for, objectively, they remain a fascinating piece of technology to this day.
The Avro Heritage Museum was put up just meters away from where the Vulcans were produced. Avro was based at this particular airfield near Manchester, England. Squadrons were also based there and performed regular practice operations. This airfield was also where the Avro Lancaster, the famous WW2 bomber, was built. In total, 136 Vulcans were made at around £750,000 each. In dollars, this would be worth around $10 million each in today's money. That's quite a lot more than our foam board airplanes!
What it's like inside
Stepping inside the huge aircraft, it's surprising how many objects are present to whack your head on. To put it bluntly, there's not a whole lot of space in there. Packed into the cramped cockpit and crew compartment there are squeezed five seats for two pilots and three crewmen.
The instruments are as you'd expect from an aircraft of the era. One notable feature of the controls is that there is no yoke - I would have expected there to be one in a bomber like this. Instead, there's a joystick. It's very much like the one you'd find in a contemporary de Haviland Vampire or a even earlier jet.
When you sit in the ejector seat and look out of the canopy, you feel like you're in a fighter, not a bomber. Apparently, that's what the pilots wanted; it was supposed to be a nimble airplane despite its colossal size and high-altitude performance. Interestingly, the engines on a Vulcan are actually the same, or near enough the same, as those on a Concord, the famous supersonic passenger aircraft of the 1960s.
If the Vulcan was shot down and the crew needed to eject, only the two pilots had ejector seats. The Captain would give the command to abandon the aircraft and the three other crew members would have to exit the aircraft through the main entry hatch in the bottom of the fuselage. Ten seconds later, the pilots would pull their ejector seat handles and be launched skyward. Tragically, in accidents on several occasions during a crash on takeoff or landing, it was only the pilots who survived thanks to their ejector seats.
We were also shown how the crew were fed on their long 8-hour missions: heated tubes contained cans of soup in the cockpit with one for each person. How civilised!
If you really want to know what it's like to be squashed into the tight cockpit of the Vulcan, here's a short video of the experience from my personal side channel.
Hopefully you found this article an interesting insight into a military aircraft of the 1950s and '60s. Make sure you let us know if you like these new historical themed articles by commenting below and rating them!
Article by James Whomsley